Welcome to our eighth season! Whilst preparing for an epic season 09/10 next year, which will feature many "premieres", this season, we will perform mainly well-known works from the Baroque cannon: pieces with which you may be familiar. This is interesting both for us, since we will be showing off in the virtuose and flamboyant "Italian" style; and for you, the listener: since most of this season's repertoire is already performed and recorded frequently, you have a chance to hear what's different about the sound of De Swaen.
HIP (Historically Informed Performance) requires decisions to be made in order for performances to take place; otherwise there would simply be rooms full of arguing academics not daring to play a note. Different ensembles have different ideas about what's historic. These days, very few of us wear powdered wigs, travel by horse or keep slaves but we aim at least to recreate, as accurately as possible, the sounds of early 18th century music.
Alongside our no-compromise, historically accurate instruments and meticulous attention to C18 performance practice, we will also be exploring pre-industrial tuning aesthetics. Perhaps you remember that in May, mention was made of "Just Intonation, accompanied by 1/6th comma meantone temperament". What does this mean?
In a word: "harmony". Definition: 1. Agreement in feeling or opinion; accord. 2. A pleasing combination of elements in a whole: 3. The just adaptation of parts to each other, in any system or combination of things, or in things, or things intended to form a connected whole; such an agreement between the different parts of a design or composition as to produce unity of effect. (Source: Webster's Revised Unabridged Dictionary (1913))
Within music, this is truly possible with pure tuning, or "Just Intonation".
Almost every sound contains a series of overtones, or "partials", that resonate amongst themselves. A bass note, for instance, already contains the notes of its major triad. When upper voices sound this triad in accordance with these partials, the overall sound is more resonant. To achieve this, musicians must make microtonal adjustments to almost every note they play and be aware of the key (tonality) in which they are playing. "Real" natural trumpets (because they only play in one key at a time anyway) and many singers do this automatically.
Because these notes are tuned slightly differently depending on their harmonic function, a keyboard instrument with 12 notes per octave, however it is tuned, cannot make such adjustments, especially when the music changes key. We use a 1/6th comma meantone temperament, generally agreed to be the most elegant compromise because it maintains some resonance within the various key structures found in Baroque music. Contemporary sources advised the sensitive keyboard player to leave out notes that would interfere too much with the en-
"JI" and pure ratios between notes were written about by many, including the ancient Greeks, Martin Luther, Hermann von Helmholz, Harry Partch and Olivier Messiaen and was an important part of musical training for centuries. During the 18th century, Tartini, Prelleur, L. Mozart, Quantz, Rameau, Stillingfleet, Holder, Burney, Sorge, Altenburg, Rousseau, and Tosi, amongst others, referred to JI as a tuning ideal in their books. The Hilliard Ensemble have made recordings using JI such as Thomas Tallis: Lamentations of Jeremiah, ECM 1341 833 308-2 (1987)
Some of what you hear today may, in places, sound a little new and unfamiliar to our post-industrial ears. Please enjoy our little adventure into a part of the past that we want to remember.